Al Hanisim

“Al HaNissim” “on one foot”:

”Al HaNissim” is prayer we say on Chanukah as part of the Amidah and Birkat HaMazon.

There are 8 English ways to spell the Festival of Lights: Chanukah, Hanukah, Channukah, Hannukah, Chanukkah, Hanukkah, Chanuka, Hanuka. The ninth way is “janukah”, because in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) the “j” makes the “ch” sound (plus "Khanike" in Yiddish). There are only two ways to spell the holiday in Hebrew, though: חנוכה, and חנכה.

לחנוכה ולפורים
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

On Chanukah and Purim add:
We thank You also for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.

Context: This is the beginning of the "Al Hanisim" prayer which we say daily during the Amidah and Birkat HaMazon on Chanukah (and Purim, and Yom HaAtzmaut).

Which miracles happened during the original Chanukah?

What’s the Story?

(מא) ויצווה יהודה את גדוד אחד מאנשיו לצור על המצודה עד טהרם את המקדש.

(מב) ויבחר מן הכוהנים אשר לא נטמאו ואשר לא עזבו את ברית אלוהיהם, ויצוום לטהר את המקדש ולהשליך את האבנים אשר נטמאו אל מקום טמא.

(מג) ויראו את מזבח העולה כי חולל, ויועצו לב יחדו כדת מה לעשות.

(מד) ותהי העצה היעוצה לנתוץ את המזבח עד רדתו, לבלתי היות להם למכשול, יען כי חיללוהו זרים. וייתצו אתו.

(מה) ויניחו את האבנים על הר הבית אל מקום פלוני אלמוני, עד אשר יקום נביא בישראל להורותם את אשר יעשון.

(מו) ויקחו אבנים שלמות אשר לא עלה עליהן ברזל, ככתוב בתורת ה' ויבנו מזבח חדש כתבנית הראשון.

(מז) וישובו לבנות את פרצי המקדש ואת כל אשר מבית להיכל, ויחטאו את החצר ואת כל אשר בו.

(מח) ויחדשו את כל כלי הקודש, וישימו את המנורה אל ההיכל ואת מזבח הקטורת ואת שולחן הפנים.

(מט) וישימו את הקטורת על המזבח, ועל המנורה העלו את נרותיה להאיר במקדש.

(נ) ויתנו את לחם הפנים על השולחן, ואת הפרוכת המסך על הארון, ותכל כל העבודה כאשר בתחילה.

(נא) ויהי ביום החמישי ועשרים לחדש התשיעי הוא כסלו, בשנת שמונה וארבעים ומאה, וישכימו בבוקר ויעלו עולות על המזבח החדש כמשפט.

(נב) ויחנכו את המזבח בעצם היום אשר טמאו אותו הגויים, ויהללו לה' בשירים ובכינורות בחלילים ובמצלצלים.

(נג) ויפלו על פניהם וישתחוו לה' על אשר נתן להם עוז ותשועה.

(נד) ויחוגו את חנוכת המזבח שמונת ימים, ויעלו עולות ותודות בשמחת לבבם.

(נה) ויפארו את פני ההיכל בעטרות ובמגיני זהב ויחטאו את השערים ואת לשכות הכוהנים, וישימו את הדלתות.

(נו) ותהי שמחה גדולה בכל העם, כי גלל ה' את חרפת הגויים מעליהם.

(נז) ויצווה יהודה ואחיו וכל קהל ישראל לחוג את חנוכת המזבח ביום החמישה ועשרים לחדש כסלו שמונת ימים מדי שנה בשנה בהלל ובתודה לה'.

(41) Then Judah appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary. (42) He chose pure priests who had not abandoned the covenant of their Lord, and he commanded them to cleanse the sanctuary, and carry out the defiled stones into an unclean place. (43) And they saw that the alter of burnt offerings was profaned, and they consulted as to what should be done with it. (44) They thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them because the heathen had defiled it, so they pulled it down, (45) And laid up the stones [of the alter] on the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to show what should be done with them (46) Then they took whole stones which had never been hewn with iron, according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former; (47) And made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts (48) They made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candelabrum, and the altar of incense, and the table of showbread. (49) And upon the altar they burned incense, and the lamps that were upon the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple. (50) Furthermore they set the loaves of the showbread upon the table, and spread out the veils on the Ark, and finished all the works which they had begun to make. (51) Now on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month, which is called the month Kislev, in the hundred forty and eighth year, they rose up in the morning, and offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings. (52) They dedicated the alter on the same day the heathens profaned it, and they praised God with songs, violins, harps, and cymbals. (53) Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping God, because God had given them strength and salvation.(54) And they celebrated the dedication of the altar eight days and offered burnt offerings and the offerings of thanksgiving with gladness in their hearts. (55) They decked also the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold, and with shields; and the gates and the chambers they renewed, and hung doors upon them. (56) And there was great gladness among the people, because God had rolled away the disgrace of the heathens from upon them. (57) And Judah and his brothers and the whole congregation of Israel ordained, to celebrate the dedication of the alter on the five and twentieth day of the month of Kislev for eight days, from year to year, with praise and thanks to God. ​​​​​​​

Context: 1 Maccabees is a book of the Apocrypha. It was originally written in Hebrew by a Jewish author, but it was never included as part of the Tanach. The original Hebrew was lost and most versions we have now are in Greek. It is included in Catholic and Christian Orthodox versions of the Christian Bible, but it is not included in Protestant versions. Most scholars agree it was written very close to the period of the Maccabean revolt (around the year 100 BCE). This section comes after the ragtag band of Jewish farmers have fought off the mightiest army in the world at the time (similar to the American Revolution). The bolded phrases reflect the language that made it into "Al Hanissim".

What part of the story is missing here?

(א) ורוח ה' צלחה על יהודה המכבי ועל אנשיו, וילכדו את העיר ואת המקדש.

(ב) ויהרסו את המזבחות ואת בתי הגילולים אשר הקימו הגויים בחוצות העיר.

(ג) ויהי אחרי טהרם את הבית, ויעשו מזבח חדש, ויוציאו אש מן האבנים אשר ליקטו, ויקריבו את קורבנם לה' מקץ שנתיים ימים.

(ד) ויקטירו ויערכו את הנרות, ויתנו את לחם הפנים על שולחן ה'.

(ה) וככלות כל אלה נפלו על פניהם ויתחננו אל ה' אלוהים לאמור:

(ו) אנא ה' שומרנו לנצח מצרה כזאת אשר באתנו.

(ז) ואם חטאנו לך, יסרנו כחסדך, ואל תתננו עוד בידי זרים המחרפים את שם קודשך.

(ח) ומאת ה' הייתה זאת לחטא את הבית בעצם היום ההוא אשר טימאו אתו הגויים, והוא יום העשרים וחמשה לירח כסלו.

(ט) ויחוגו חג לה' שמונת ימים כימי חג הסוכות, ויזכרו את הימים מקדם בחגגם את חג הסוכות בהרים ובמערות, ויתעו בישימון כבהמות שדה.

(י) ויקחו ערבי נחל וכפות תמרים וישירו שיר שבח והודיה לה', אשר נתן להם עוז ותשועה לטהר את בית מקדשו.

(יא) ויעבירו קול בכל ערי יהודה לחוג את החג הזה מדי שנה בשנה.

Now Judah Maccabee and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; 2 they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. 3 They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years. 4 They offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. 5 When they finished all of these things they fell on their faces and beseeched God, saying 6 “Please, God, you guarded us to victory from this trouble that was with us. 7 And if we have sinned before you, rebuke us according to Your kindness, and do not give us over any further into the hands of foreigners who disgraced Your holy name.” 8 It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. 9 They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the Festival of Booths, remembering how not long before, during the Festival of Booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. 10 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to God who had given success to the purifying of God's own holy place. 11 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

Context: Like 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees isn't part of the Tanach or Protestant Bible. 2 Maccabees was originally written in Greek, most likely in Egypt, just a few years after the Maccabean Revolt (around 2nd century BCE). This is the same part of the story that we saw in 1 Maccabees, where the Temple is rededicated after the Syrian-Greeks have been chased off. The bolded phrases reflect the language that made it into "Al Hanissim".

Why is the holiday for 8 days in this text, and who decided it should be celebrated each year?

Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:319-325 (C.E. 94/95)

319 So on the five and twentieth day of the month Kislev, which the Macedonians call Apelleus, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar, and laid the loaves upon the table, and offered burnt-offerings upon the new altar.....323 Now Judah celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms….324 Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. 325 And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.

Context: Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote extensively about the Second Temple and its destruction. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, he fled to Rome and defected to become a Roman citizen. He wrote his accounts as records for the Romans, and his allegiance was to them. This is his version of the Chanukah story, about 150 years after it happened. We are seeing the same part of the story as before, after Judah Maccabee has won a military victory with his small group against the large army of the Syrian-Greeks. This text references the fact that the original dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert and First Temple both lasted 8 days.

According to Josephus, why is the holiday 8 days, and why is it called “The Festival of Lights”?

(א) מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד (תהלים ל א').... ולמה מדליק נרות בחנוכה אלא בשעה שנצחו בניו של חשמונאי הכהן הגדול למלכות יון שנאמר ועוררת בניך ציון על בניך יון (זכריה ט' י"ג) נכנסו לבית המקדש מצאו שם שמונה שפודין של ברזל וקבעו אותם והדליקו בתוכם נרות ולמה קורין את ההלל מפני שכתב אל ה' ויאר לנו (תהלים קי"ח כ"ז)

(1)A song of the dedication of the house of David (Psalms 30:1) ... Why do we light Channukah lamps? At that time the sons of the Hasmonean, the great priest, triumphed over the kingdom of Greece. As it says “...I will arouse your children, O Zion, upon your children, O Yavan; ...” (Zechariah 9:13) [When] they entered the Temple they found there eight iron stakes (i.e. spears), fixed them in the ground and lit lamps upon them [i.e. they grooved them and then kindled wicks in the oil which they poured into the grooves.].

Why do we read the Hallel (psalms of praise)? Because it is written “The Lord is God, and He gave us light.” (Tehillim 118:27)

Context: This text comes from Pesikta Rabbati, which was a set of midrashim (commentaries) on the Tanach written in the Land of Israel around the same time that the Babylonian Talmud was being written in Babylonia. This selection is commenting on the first verse of Psalm 30 (which is part of the weekday and Shabbat P’sukei D’Zimra warm-up section of our morning services). The verse is being brought as support because “Yavan” later became the name for “Greece”. This is supported by I Maccabees 1:23, which says that Antiochus took away the original menorah.

What explanation is given for why we light lights on Chanukah? What explanation is not given?

מַאי חֲנוּכָּה? דְּתָנוּ רַבָּנַן: בְּכ״ה בְּכִסְלֵיו יוֹמֵי דַחֲנוּכָּה תְּמָנְיָא אִינּוּן דְּלָא לְמִסְפַּד בְּהוֹן וּדְלָא לְהִתְעַנּוֹת בְּהוֹן. שֶׁכְּשֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ יְווֹנִים לַהֵיכָל טִמְּאוּ כׇּל הַשְּׁמָנִים שֶׁבַּהֵיכָל. וּכְשֶׁגָּבְרָה מַלְכוּת בֵּית חַשְׁמוֹנַאי וְנִצְּחוּם, בָּדְקוּ וְלֹא מָצְאוּ אֶלָּא פַּךְ אֶחָד שֶׁל שֶׁמֶן שֶׁהָיָה מוּנָּח בְּחוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל, וְלֹא הָיָה בּוֹ אֶלָּא לְהַדְלִיק יוֹם אֶחָד. נַעֲשָׂה בּוֹ נֵס וְהִדְלִיקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים. לְשָׁנָה אַחֶרֶת קְבָעוּם וַעֲשָׂאוּם יָמִים טוֹבִים בְּהַלֵּל וְהוֹדָאָה.

The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Taanit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.

Context: This comes from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, which is about Shabbat (logically enough). This text comes after a discussion about the wicks one can use to light Shabbat candles, and whether there is any difference in the wicks one can use to light Chanukah candles (answer: one has more options for Chanukah wicks than Shabbat wicks). This then leads into a discussion about lighting Chanukah candles, and why we even do it in the first place, which is what brings us to our text.

It is important to know that the Babylonian Talmud was written far away from the Land of Israel, and about 600 years after the events of Chanukah. It is also important to know that the rabbis didn’t like the descendants of the Hasmoneans because they took on both the role of king and high priest, because eventually their fratricidal and matricidal civil war over the succession led to Rome being invited in and taking over the land of Israel, and because some of the later Hasmoneans killed large numbers of Pharisees (the forerunners of the Rabbis). Finally, it is important to know that the Rabbis sought to bring G-d into Jewish holidays where G-d was not so readily apparent (such as Purim - see Megilla 7a).

Miron Hirsch points out that if the Maccabees made a make-shift menorah out of spear-ends, then those would hold less oil than the original menorah. Thus, what would have been enough oil for one day in the original menorah could have lasted for eight days in the spear-end menorah.

The underlined phrase reflect the language that made it into "Al Hanissim".

According to this text, why is the holiday 8 days, and why do we still celebrate it today?

(ב) וּכְשֶׁגָּבְרוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל אוֹיְבֵיהֶם וְאִבְּדוּם בְּכ''ה בְּחֹדֶשׁ כִּסְלֵו הָיָה וְנִכְנְסוּ לַהֵיכָל וְלֹא מָצְאוּ שֶׁמֶן טָהוֹר בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ אֶלָּא פַּךְ אֶחָד וְלֹא הָיָה בּוֹ לְהַדְלִיק אֶלָּא יוֹם אֶחָד בִּלְבַד וְהִדְלִיקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נֵרוֹת הַמַּעֲרָכָה שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים עַד שֶׁכָּתְשׁוּ זֵיתִים וְהוֹצִיאוּ שֶׁמֶן טָהוֹר:

(ג) וּמִפְּנֵי זֶה הִתְקִינוּ חֲכָמִים שֶׁבְּאוֹתוֹ הַדּוֹר שֶׁיִּהְיוּ שְׁמוֹנַת הַיָּמִים הָאֵלּוּ שֶׁתְּחִלָּתָן כ''ה בְּכִסְלֵו יְמֵי שִׂמְחָה וְהַלֵּל וּמַדְלִיקִין בָּהֶן הַנֵּרוֹת בָּעֶרֶב עַל פִּתְחֵי הַבָּתִּים בְּכָל לַיְלָה וְלַיְלָה מִשְּׁמוֹנַת הַלֵּילוֹת לְהַרְאוֹת וּלְגַלּוֹת הַנֵּס. וְיָמִים אֵלּוּ הֵן הַנִּקְרָאִין חֲנֻכָּה וְהֵן אֲסוּרִין בְּהֶסְפֵּד וְתַעֲנִית כִּימֵי הַפּוּרִים. וְהַדְלָקַת הַנֵּרוֹת בָּהֶן מִצְוָה מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים כִּקְרִיאַת הַמְּגִלָּה:

(2) When, on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the Jews had emerged victorious over their foes and destroyed them, they re-entered the Temple where they found only one jar of pure oil, enough to be lit for only a single day; yet they used it for lighting the required set of lamps for eight days, until they managed to press olives and produce pure oil.

(3) Because of this, the sages of that generation ruled that the eight days beginning with the twenty-fifth of Kislev should be observed as days of rejoicing and praising the Lord. Lamps are lit in the evening over the doors of the homes, on each of the eight nights, so as to display the miracle. These days are called Hanukkah, when it is forbidden to lament or to fast, just as it is on the days of Purim. Lighting the lamps during the eight days of Hanukkah is a religious duty imposed by the sages, like the reading of the Megillah on Purim.

Context: This is from Maimonides/Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, his codification of the laws in the Talmud written around 1175 CE. This text is from his section on Chanukah and Purim.

According to Rambam, what do we do on Chanukah, why do we do it, and how do you think he knows that?

How does the story play out in “Al Hanisim”?

The text below comes from the siddur and was written around 875 C.E. It is said daily during Hanukkah during the Amidah and during Birkat HaMazon.

בחנוכה ובפורים
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

On Chanukah and Purim add:
We thank You also for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in days of old, at this season.

לחנוכה -- בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהו בֶן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשְׁמוֹנָאִי וּבָנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם מִתּוֹרָתָךְ וּלְהַעֲבִירָם מֵחֻקֵּי רְצוֹנָךְ וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבָם דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינָם נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתָם מָסַרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְקֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ וּלְךָ עָשִׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹשׁ בְּעוֹלָמָךְ וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשׁוּעָה גְדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ וּפִנּוּ אֶת הֵיכָלֶךָ וְטִהֲרוּ אֶת-מִקְדָּשֶׁךָ וְהִדְלִיקוּ נֵרוֹת בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָבְעוּ שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה אֵלּוּ לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל.

On Chanukah—In the days of Mattathias the Hasmonean, son of Yochanan the great priest, and his sons, when the wicked Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah, and to turn them away from the laws of Your will, You, in Your abundant mercy rose up for them in the time of their trouble. You fought their fight, judged their cause, and avenged them with vengeance. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the arrogant into the hands of those engaged with Your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your world, and for Your people Israel You made a great deliverance and redemption as on this day. After these things Your children came into the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified the place of Your holiness, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and established these eight days of Chanukah in order to give thanks and praises to Your great name.

Context: The current text of "Al Hanissim" is taken from the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (section: Seder Hanukkah; he died 875 CE) and the siddur of Rav Sa'adiah Gaon (he died in 942 CE). It is now in the siddur, both in the Amidah and in Birkat HaMazon, and it is said daily during Chanukah (and Purim and Yom HaAtzmaut, both of which have their own versions). Saying the prayer is also mentioned by Rav Achai \ Aha Gaon (Sheiltot d'Rav Achai Gaon, Vayishlach, 26:1), who lived around 750 CE.

A common mistranslation of this prayer is to say that Mattathias’ father is Yochanan the High Priest. Rather, “kohen gadol” here should be translated as “great priest”, according to Reuven Hammer. Mattathias was not a High Priest, because otherwise he would be in Jerusalem instead of in Modi’in. His descendants later took that role.

Which version of the story is reflected here, and who gets the credit for the victory?

If the Syrian-Greeks represent never engaging with Judaism, and if Maccabees represent never engaging with the “modern” world, where does your Jewish identity fall on the spectrum between those two extremes?

When Do We Say “Al Hanissim”?

(יד) כל שאין בו מוסף כגון חנוכה ופורים ערבית שחרית ומנחה מתפלל שמונה עשרה ואומר מעין המאורע בהודאה

ואם לא אמר מעין המאורע <אין> מחזירין אותו.

(14) Any [holiday] on which there is no Mussaf [Amidah] for example, Hanukah and Purim, on Shaharit and Minhah one prays [the Amidah with] eighteen (Berakhot) and one mentions something about the occasion in [the Berakhah of] Hoda'ah (Thanksgiving).

And if one did not mention something about the occasion, one does not have to go back [to the beginning of the Amidah].

Context: This is from the Tosefta for Tractate Brachot. The Tosefta is all the material that didn't make it into the Mishnah. It's like if you are making hamantashen and you roll out your dough, the dough that becomes the circles is the Mishnah, and all the dough that doesn't become the circles is the Tosefta.

Why would holidays for which there is no Musaf get mentioned in the blessing of thanks?

אִיבַּעְיָא לְהוּ: מַהוּ לְהַזְכִּיר שֶׁל חֲנוּכָּה בְּבִרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן? כֵּיוָן דְּמִדְּרַבָּנַן הוּא — לָא מַדְכְּרִינַן, אוֹ דִילְמָא מִשּׁוּם פַּרְסוֹמֵי נִיסָּא — מַדְכְּרִינַן?! אָמַר רָבָא אָמַר רַב סְחוֹרָה אָמַר רַב הוּנָא: אֵינוֹ מַזְכִּיר. וְאִם בָּא לְהַזְכִּיר — מַזְכִּיר בַּהוֹדָאָה. רַב הוּנָא בַּר יְהוּדָה אִיקְּלַע לְבֵי רָבָא. סְבַר לְאַדְכּוֹרֵי בְּ״בוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם״. אָמַר לְהוּ רַב שֵׁשֶׁת: כִּתְפִלָּה. מַה תְּפִלָּה בַּהוֹדָאָה — אַף בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן בַּהוֹדָאָה.
A dilemma was raised before the Sages: What is the ruling with regard to the obligation to mention Hanukkah in Grace after Meals? The dilemma is: Since it is merely an obligation by rabbinic law, do we not mention it? Or, perhaps due to publicity of the miracle, we mention it. Rava said that Rav Seḥora said that Rav Huna said: One does not mention it. And if, nevertheless, he comes to mention it, he mentions it in the blessing of thanksgiving. The Gemara relates that Rav Huna bar Yehuda happened by Rava’s house on Hanukkah. When, after eating, he came to recite Grace after Meals, he thought to mention Hanukkah in the blessing: Who builds Jerusalem. Rav Sheshet said to the yeshiva students: One mentions Hanukkah in Grace after Meals just as he does in the Amida prayer. Just as in the Amida prayer one mentions Hanukkah in the blessing of thanksgiving, so too, in Grace after Meals one mentions Hanukkah in the blessing of thanksgiving.

Context: This is again from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat. Right before this sugya (section), the text was talking about the appropriate oil to use for lighting Shabbat candles, and then, perhaps inspired by other holidays in which one lights oil, the Talmud goes on to ask about when one talks about Chanukah in Birkat HaMazon. This text is clarifying what to do about mentioning Chanukah in Birkat HaMazon, since it is already known where to say it in the Amidah (see Tosefta Brachot 3:14). It is useful to know that when the Talmud mentions “publicizing the miracle” (pirsum haneis), this is the reason the Talmud gives for why one lights a chanukiah (Shabbat 23b).

Does mentioning Chanukah in Birkat HaMazon publicize the miracle to others or to ourselves, and why should we do it?

ואומרים בהודייה והודאת פלאות ותשועת כהנים אשר עשית בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן כהן גדול וחשמונאי ובניו וכן עשה עמנו ה' אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו נסים ונפלאות ונודה לשמך לנצח בא"י הטוב ונסים מרדכי ואסתר מזכירין אותן בהודייה ושניהן נזכרין בברכת המזון:

In the benediction for Thanksgiving38Beginning ‘We give thanks’ (P.B., p. 51). we include [on Ḥanukkah] ‘and thanks for the wonders and salvation of Your priests which You wrought in the days of Mattathias, son of Yochanan, the great priest, and the Hasmoneans his sons. So also, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, perform for us miracles and wonders, and we will give thanks unto Thy name for ever. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Who art all-good’.39The present version of this form of thanksgiving is longer and differs in wording (P.B., p. 52). The miracles [of the days] of Mordecai and Esther are also mentioned [on Purim] in the benediction for Thanksgiving. Both40Those for Ḥanukkah and Purim. are likewise mentioned in the Grace after meals.41In the second benediction (P.B., p. 281).

Context: This is from Tractate Soferim, which was compiled in 750 CE in Babylonia. It brings together material on which there is no separate tractate in the Babylonian Talmud, like Chanukah. This text shows us how the wording for "Al Hanisim" was beginning to take shape, particularly within the context of the "Blessing of Thanks" within the Amidah. The text in italics is somebody's commentary explaining parts of this text.

Does G-d still do miracles for us today?

Musical Versions of “Al Hanisim”

How do these versions reflect the meaning and mood of the prayer?

This is from the Jewish-American band Safam, released on their album “A Brighter Day” (1986). Here are the lyrics:

Al hanissim v’al hapurkan,
V’al hag’vurot, v’al hat’shuot,
V’al hamilchamot sheasitah
La’avoteinu.

Bayamim haheim baz’man hazeh

Biy’mei Matityahu ben Yochanan
Uviy’mei Mordechai v’Esther hamalka
Uvayamim shel Mar Hertzl uVen Gurion
Amad’tah lahem b’eit tsaratam.

http://www.safam.com/safam-lyrics.shtml#brighteralhanissim

Context: This is the tune that most people know if they know a tune for this prayer. It goes back to the 1970s. This recording is from Dov Frimer in 1975, and he gets most of the credit for the tune. Izhar Cohen released a recording of the same tune a year prior in 1974 which may have been connected with the 6th Chassidic Song Festival (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW3uU0QQwjQ).

Context: This is a Six13 version, sung by Six13 and the Maccabeats together at a Maccabeats concert in 2012.

Thoughts on "Al Hanissim"

"Al Hanissim: Remembering Our Partnership in G-d's Miracles" (Rabbi Rachel Barenblat)

Even as we thank God for doing miracles for our ancestors, we remember that we too played a role in bringing about those miracles. We are partners with God in making space for the miraculous. We must not expect God to perform miracles to redeem us while we sit back and wait.

Like our spiritual ancestors, we’re called to work toward redemption — our own, and that of all creation — in hope and trust that what we do here “below” will arouse the flow from “on high.”

When we speak truth to power, may we, like Esther, be blessed with a turning of the political tide. When we cultivate faith that we will be enough to bring light to darkness, may we, like the Hasmoneans, be blessed with the miracle of our own sufficiency, and the miracle of the light of justice banishing the darkness of bigotry, destruction, and hate.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/al-hanisim-remembering-our-partnership-in-gods-miracles/

"Al Hanisim: A Holiday Prayer of Thanks for Everyday Miracles" (Rabbi Elisha Friedman)

The authors of Al Hanisim exclude the oil miracle as if to say, “Now we are praying, thanking God for His goodness and the blessing He bestows on us.” This decision suggests a larger truth about the act of prayer. When we pray, we are thanking God for those things that, while not as flashy as the miracle of the oil, are nevertheless crucial to our freedom and wellbeing.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/al-hanisim-a-prayer-of-thanks-for-the-everyday-miracles/

With appreciation to: Robbie Medwed (whose sheet “Chanukah: The Book of Maccabees vs The Talmud” provided much of the material for this sheet), Geoffrey Stern, Lisa Grushcow, Rebecca Rosenthal, Nina Peretz, Rabbi Josh Pernick, Faustine Sigal, Jeffrey Hoffman, Deborah Miller, MyJewishLearning, Cantor Macy Nulman, and Joel Lurie Grishaver’s work “The True Story of Hanukkah”.

Appendix A: Commentary on Al Hanissim by Reuven Hammer

(ב) לחנוכה ולפורים
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

(ג) לחנוכה—בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהו בֶן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשְׁמוֹנָאִי וּבָנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם מִתּוֹרָתָךְ וּלְהַעֲבִירָם מֵחֻקֵּי רְצוֹנָךְ וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבָם דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינָם נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתָם מָסַרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְקֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ וּלְךָ עָשִׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹשׁ בְּעוֹלָמָךְ וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשׁוּעָה גְדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ וּפִנּוּ אֶת הֵיכָלֶךָ וְטִהֲרוּ אֶת־מִקְדָּשֶׁךָ וְהִדְלִיקוּ נֵרוֹת בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָבְעוּ שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה אֵלּוּ לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל.

(2) On Chanukah and Purim add:
We thank You also for the miraculous deliverance, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in days of old, until our time.

(3) On Chanukah—In the days of Mattathias the Hasmonean, son of Yochanan the great priest, and his sons, when the wicked Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them abandon Your Torah, and to turn them away from the laws of Your will, You, in Your abundant mercy rose up for them in the time of their trouble. You fought their fight, judged their cause, and avenged them with vengeance. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the arrogant into the hands of those engaged with Your Torah. For Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your world, and for Your people Israel You made a great deliverance and redemption as on this day. After these things Your children came into the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified the place of Your holiness, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and established these eight days of Chanukah in order to give thanks and praises to Your great name.

For the miraculous deliverance - The Modim blessing, into which this prayer is inserted on Chanukah, Purim, and Israel’s Independence Day, speaks about “Your miracles which daily attend us.” Mention is therefore made here of each of the “minor” holidays, those added after the time of the Torah, since each has a miraculous deliverance connected to it. Each commemorates the deliverance of Israel from its enemies under difficult circumstances. The miracles referred to are not supernatural interferences in nature, but rather God working through history. We experience the ability to overcome adversity as a divine act.

In this case, the miracles are the specific historical events connected with the holiday of Chanukah, the triumph of the Jews over the Syrian-Greeks. The beautiful legend of the little jar of oil that lasted for eight days is related in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) as an explanation of the fact that Chanukah is eight days and the lights are lit each night, going from one to eight. The story is not historical and does not appear in the Book of Maccabees or other ancient records of the events. This prayer — very likely the official recounting of the holiday composed at the time of the events — sees the miracle rather in the victory of the few and the weak over the many and the mighty.

Until our time - Including our time. The wonders of deliverance are not confined to ancient times. The text here follows Rav Amram, amending the words to express gratitude for miracles "in other times, at this season" to read "in other times, and in our day (u-vaz'man ha-zeh)."

The wonders of deliverance are not confined to ancient times. They have occurred in modern times as well. In recent times a third holiday, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, has been added to the two ancient ones. Here too we see the establishment of the state of Israel and its ability to overcome its adversaries as a miracle. The paragraph for Yom Ha’atzmaut (and Purim) does not appear in the Shabbat service because Yom Ha’atzmaut (and Purim) never occurs on Friday or Shabbat.

In the days of Mattathias - The story of Chanukah is told briefly here, emphasizing the miraculous deliverance of the small army of the Jews from the might of the great Syrian-Greek empire which sought to impose Hellenism upon the Judeans. The desecration of the Temple took place in 167 BCE and the revolt began the following year. The recovery, cleansing, and rededication of the Temple took place in 164 under the leadership of Mattathias's son Judah, but the fighting was to continue for many years thereafter. The practice of lighting lights each night of Chanukah is explained as a remembrance of the lights that were rekindled in the Temple when it was purified and rededicated. The full story of the revolt is told in the extra-canonical Books of Maccabees.

The revolt against the Syrians was also an internal conflict between the Jewish Hellenists and those remaining true to Judaism. The priest Mattathias and his sons led the struggle and gained control of the Temple in 164 BCE.

The great priest - This is often mistakenly understood as High Priest, which Mattathias was not — although his dynasty later usurped that title.

The wicked Greco-Syrian kingdom - Literally, “the evil Greek kingdom”, referring to the Seleucid empire, one of the Hellenistic dynasties established after the death of Alexander the Great. Its center was in Syria.

Abandon Your Torah - The Torah had been declared the official constitution of Judea by Ezra in 444 BCE. After an inner struggle between different Jewish camps, some of whom wished to drastically reform Judaism by Hellenizing it, the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes decreed that the Torah was no longer mandatory. Subsequently he outlawed the observance of the Torah completely as a means of quelling the rebellion.

The right to observe the Torah was at the core of the rebellion. Many perished when they defied the decrees against its observance and were executed for this. This was the first time that religious martyrdom entered Jewish history. Unfortunately, it was not the last.

The strong - i.e. the Syrians.

Kindled lights - The Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum representing the universe and also the Tree of Life, is the ancient symbol of Judaism. See Exodus 25:31-40. It was kindled every evening and burned continually through the night in the Sanctuary as a sign of God’s presence in the world. Rekindling this light was one of the major features of the rededication ceremony of Chanukah by the Maccabees because it rededicated the Temple to the service of God, and it is commemorated by the lighting of lamps each night of the festival in our own day. Centuries later, the legend of the miraculous jug of oil which lasted for eight days added another dimension to the significance of the lights.

And established these eight days of Chanukah - In the Apocrypha, the Book of Maccabees explains that they rededicated the Temple by celebrating the Sukkot festival -- which lasts for eight days -- since it was the most recent Festival that had not been properly celebrated because of the desecrated status of the Temple. The holiday was originally called "the Sukkot of the month of Kislev".

Chanting praises - Probably an indication of the recitation of Hallel, which is performed every day of Sukkot. It then came to be read every day of Chanukah as well.

Commentary published in Siddur Or Chadash, on pages 8, 37, 119, 160, 176, 238, 290, and 338.

Appendix B: Thoughts on Miracles

Mi Yemalel

Who can retell the heroic deeds of Israel? Who can count them?

In every age, a hero arises to redeem the people.

Listen! In those days at this season, Judah the Maccabee rescued us.

Now in these days all the people of Israel must unite and rise to redeem themselves.

- Menashe Ravina, 1936 (contrast Psalm 106:2)

Rabbi David Hartman, The Courage to Put our Jewish Lights in the Front Window in A Different Light

The major question, which we must ponder on Hanukkah, is whether the Jewish people can develop an identity that will enable it to meet the outside world without feeling threatened or intimidated. The choice, hopefully, need not be ghettoization or assimilation.

Rabbi David Hartman, Trusting in a New Beginning in A Different Light

In considering the miracle of the cruse of oil, our Rabbis asked why the holiday of Hanukkah was celebrated for eight days rather than for seven days. Since there was, by all accounts, sufficient oil for one day, only seven of the eight days of burning may be designated as miraculous days. Though several ingenious explanations were offered, what strikes me as being the miraculous feature of the initial day was the community's willingness to light the lamp in spite of the fact that its anticipated period of burning was short-lived. The miracle of the first day was expressed in the community's willingness to light a small cruse of oil without reasonable assurance that their efforts would be sufficient to complete the rededication of the Temple. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle expressed by those who lit the lamp and not only the miracle of the lamp's continued burning for eight days.

(ה) שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

- (Attributed to) Albert Einstein

(א) הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ שֶׁאָנוּ מַדְלִיקִין, עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת, שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה, עַל יְדֵי כֹּהֲנֶיךָ הַקְּדוֹשִׁים. וְכָל שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי הַחֲנֻכָּה הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ קֹדֶשׁ הֵם וְאֵין לָנוּ רְשׁוּת לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בָּהֶם, אֶלָּא לִרְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד, כְּדֵי לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל עַל נִסֶּיךָ וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ וְעַל יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.

(1) We kindle these lights on account of the miracles, the deliverances and the wonders which You did for our ancestors, by means of thy holy priests. During all the eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred, thus it is not permitted us to make any profane use of them; but we are only to look at them, in order that we may give thanks unto Your name for the miracles you preformed and the deliverances and wonders You gave to us.